Sawyers Calls Judge’s Ruling on Email Request ‘Short-Sighted,’ ‘Dangerous’

| November 21, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

Ryan Sawyers, Prince William County School Board Chairman.

Judge Steven Smith of the Prince William County Circuit Court ruled Nov. 21 that Prince William School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers will not be allowed access to his predecessor’s emails. The ruling came in a dismissal of a lawsuit Sawyers brought agains the PWCS’s superintendent, Dr. Steven Walts.

Smith said that a board vote would be necessary to grant such a request. Sans a board vote, Smith ruled that the Superintendent does not need to comply with the request coming from the chairman or any individual board member.

Chairman Ryan Sawyers claims that the ruling is dangerous as he is interpreting it as overly broad. Sawyers claims Smith has permitted the administration to be able to completely ignore a member’s request unless it is supported by a board vote.

The ruling is short-sighted and dangerous. It may even pertain to the Board of County Supervisors,” Sawyers said.

The chairman fears that individual school board members could lose all agency in interactions with the administration. In the past a board member could request a legal opinion from counsel without  a vote being required, Sawyers explained. Now, he believes those requests could be denied, which could result in a disenfranchisement of board members and essentially their constituents as well.

“Giving the superintendent and counsel complete control over what materials individual board members see is not sustainable and will disenfranchise voters in our county,” Sawyers said. “This ruling could bring board governance to a grinding halt while continuing to give the superintendent and counsel complete control over the school board which is the opposite of what the law intends.”  

Sawyers believes that Smith overstepped the intention of the Dillion Rule, and his interpretation could result in ridiculous limitations placed upon board members.

“The other unintended consequence of this could be a litany of suits filed by citizens who have their member’s request denied but other member’s requests are honored,” said Sawyers. “Clearly the judge’s ruling was short-sighted and not well thought out. The consequences of such a decision could bring all forms of local board governance to a halt.” 

In addition to suing the division superintendent, Sawyers is also suing the division counsel, Mary McGowan, for her failure to release school division emails as per his request.

Sawyers also filed a complaint against his predecessor Milt Johns’* and an associate of his at FH+H law firm with the Virginia Bar for their representation Dr. Michael Bishop, Principal of Patriot High School, in his lawsuit against Sawyers, regarding his employment at Prince William County Schools. The complaint was dismissed and ruled not a conflict of interest.

Sawyers claims that he wanted the emails for reasons of fulfilling his position with the necessary information that could assist him in that task.

In a previous statement, Phil Kavits Associate Superintendent of Communications and Technology for PWCS said the request for emails would require long hours of sorting through email and deleting confidential student and employee information. The man hours would come at a high cost to the school division especially since they would have to be gone through by an employee who already has access to high level confidential material.

Sawyers has been a controversial figure in Prince William County, and in September he was censured by his board.

Sawyers intends to run in the Virginia 1st District Democratic Primary to be a candidate for U.S. Congressman.

*Correction: Sawyers did not sue FH+H but filed a complaint against two lawyers at the firm. 

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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